Question: Two years ago my mom was diagnosed with stage four lung/bone cancer. She was told she had approximately one year at most to live. She has surprised us and surpassed her diagnosis. When she became ill she came to live with me as I am the closest child , but there are four other siblings. How can I get through to my siblings that I need help and time away from caregiving? I finally went back to work in December but I still feel like my life is passing me by while everyone else travels and manages to spend time with their children. I'm missing out on this. Please help.
Dr. Amy: It sounds like you have been on an incredible emotional journey these past two years. Your mother is lucky to have such a loving and generous child to look after her—and so is your whole family!
I encourage you to reach out to your siblings and be clear and specific about the help you are providing and the help you need. You may find it easier to communicate via email, especially since there are so many of you. Perhaps you can write a family note to everyone at the same time. Start by saying that you are writing because you know they all care about your mother, and that you want to do a better job of keeping them informed. Rather than simply listing the tasks you perform, try to blend in some interesting stories to give them a sense of how your mom is doing. Any news from the doctor? Did you two share an interesting conversation?
When writing, ask for help for yourself, not just for your mother. This is especially important now that you are back at work. When you have the support you need to take care of yourself, you are better able to care for your mother, take time for your family and friends, and avoid burnout.
You might also start by scheduling a family vacation and involving your siblings in planning for care in your absence.
Writing regularly will take time but it will also help you, in the long run. When your brothers and sisters have a solid picture of what your days looks like, they may be better able to see the need for help. They may not be aware of everything you are doing, and may not know what you want from them. This is not unusual, believe it or not! Share your feelings (while being careful not to blame). Make specific requests that are appropriate to your siblings’ circumstances. And talk to them about your family as well, so they remember that you need to spend time with them.
Lastly, I encourage you to organize regular respite care. Your may be eligible for government assistance, or you may need to organize this with your family. Caregiving is demanding, and no one can do it all on their own. Respite care is designed to give you time away from caregiving to recharge your batteries. You can find out more about what is available in your area here.
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